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 Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis

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PostSubject: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sun Sep 04, 2016 10:14 pm

(tl;dr at bottom)

Despite the problems that can accompany alignment, I still enjoy the nine-type model conceptually, and am brainstorming how to fit it into my game. My main issue is that Law and Chaos are funky and vague. I've already renamed them as Unity and Freedom, but the borders between a free and a neutral character, and a neutral and a unified character are still vague. I have found what I think is an elegant way to clarify the Good/Evil axis:

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Depending on the way one interprets or rejects this maxim, that character can be overall said to be good, neutral, or evil:

Positive interpretation (do for others...) = goodness
Negative interpretation (do not do to others...) = neutrality
Rejection of the maxim = evil.

No, the maxim doesn't provide complete clarity, but it does get at the heart of the Good/Evil axis and provide three fairly distinct categories that can be used as guidelines. Which is what I'd love to have for the Freedom/Unity axis: a maxim which describes the difference between a free, a neutral, and a unified character, depending on how they interpret or reject it.

tl;dr

I'm looking for a philosophical/spiritual maxim which I can use to define Unity (Law), Neutrality, and Freedom (Chaos), depending on interpretation/rejection.

(If there's a more appropriate sub-forum for this topic, feel free to move it. Thanks!)

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Tue Sep 06, 2016 11:55 am

Great topic for sure! I definitely have some thoughts on this. First, a brief diversion to indulge my own issues/complaints with alignment.

When it comes to alignments in games, I think it is important for it to be clear with both the players and the GM how it will be implemented. Will it be a mechanical implementation where there are specific game mechanics tied to alignment? Are there things allowed/forbid to the characters based upon alignment? And most importantly, is there a clear and objective way for the GM and players to determine what actions (if any) could impose a forced shift in alignment?

This last one I feel is important because in my 36 years of gaming, the greatest source of arguments at the table has always been when one person says to another person "Your character wouldn't do that because your alignment is X". And the resulting arguments of what alignment X "actually means" have killed campaigns before.

Players and GMs alike will perform amazing feats of "pretzel logic" just to twist and knot some "logical justification" for the actions of their character or an NPC so it fits within the written alignment. I've seen good aligned characters try to justify summoning a demon because their "intentions were good at heart".

So implementing alignment as a mechanical factor in a game can be a complex thing. That being said, here's my thoughts on the Law/Chaos axis.

Law and Chaos, as you had said, probably aren't the best terms for this axis. The idea of Lawfulness is pretty clear (well, mostly, but I'll get to that). But saying it is "opposed" by Chaos isn't really helpful. Chaos implies randomness, disorganization, and entropy. And that's all fine. But it is tough to say how that sits in terms of a code of ethics. Does the chaotic individual seek to disrupt every ordered thing they encounter? How does a chaotic individual work within a group of adventurers?

I like the idea put forth of Unity/Freedom. These names seem more like a code of ethics than the terms law and chaos. But in any case, whatever one calls it, an understanding of the underlying concepts is what is necessary.

I like what was done with the analysis of good/evil in terms of the "golden rule". There are other questions that can be used in place of this. Such as:

1. Should one act to promote well-being and reduce suffering in others? (Good=yes, Neutral=maybe/sometimes, Evil=no/only if it helps me)
2. Should one put the needs of others before their own needs, when possible? (Good=yes, Neutral=maybe, Evil=no)

Of course, each of these could be their own thread post in their own right. But I think it is understood how to generally make the distinction between good and evil. Good generally wants to promote and protect life in general and people at large. Evil generally wants to promote harm in others, often for the benefit of the self, and has little value for the life and well-being of others. Neutrality on this axis can mean either a "middle ground" of indifference towards life, or an active seeking to maintain a sort of "balance" between good and evil.

For the Unity/Freedom axis, I would submit this litmus test question:

1. Is it right to impose rules and restrictions on others?

The Unity (Law) end of the spectrum would always answer "yes". The reasoning will vary among individuals, but will likely include reasons of promoting the advancement of a group, maintaining the peace or security of a group, or even promoting the interests of specific individuals.

The Unity Good person might say "Having rules will better allow everyone to be safe from dangers, to help others in need, and promote the health and well-being of our society."

The Unity Neutral person might say "Rules are important as they ensure that all interactions among individuals start from a common ground."

The Unity Evil person might say "Rules are necessary to protect the rights of the individual to act as they see fit."

Obviously, these are just examples and there are many other reasons a person who feels that Unity is the best ethical position might use to justify/explain.

Other implementations of this concept might be:

Neutral Good - Rules are beneficial for providing the general guidelines for how one ought to act to best benefit society. However, if the rules are found to dictate actions that don't provide health and well-being for individuals, then those rules should be ignored or even eliminated.

Neutral Neutral - Rules can be helpful at times, especially when dealing with large groups of individuals that must interact with each other. But rules cannot be supreme in all cases. There are instances where the individual's desires must be considered over the rules.

Neutral Evil - Rules that can be used as a tool to further one's ambitions are worthwhile. And, beyond that, rules that operate to prevent an individual from acting upon their own goals are desirable. But one must have freedom to act upon one's own desires and ambitions just as much as one must operate within the confines of a system of regulations.

Freedom Good - While rules may be used to benefit the health and well-being of individuals and society, one ought to always act in the way that best helps others, even if that action is contrary to the rules.

Freedom Neutral - Rules only act to hinder the actions of the individual and do not benefit anyone but those capable of enacting and enforcing the rules. Each individual must always consider each situation independent of any preconceived ideals of stricture.

Freedom Evil - Rules are for suckers! hehehe.

Okay, just kidding, but that was too fun to resist.

Freedom Evil - Rules are an improper restriction upon the freedom that all individuals ought to have. Under no circumstance should rules be applied or authority to impose rules be upheld.

So, anyway, that's my first run down of this idea. I'd be very interested to hear feedback and thoughts from others on this.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sun Sep 11, 2016 12:17 am

I kind of liked world of Darkness's personality mechanics... or the ones in the Pendragon game (that was built around virtues and vices associated with the religions within its scope - one religions virtue was anothers vice) -- > never found alignment encouraged anything but shallow roleplay.

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Mon Sep 12, 2016 4:29 am

3.5 hero's builder kind of answers these questions pretty simply and succinctly. But basically good and evil (called the moral axis) are supposed to be absolute in D&D. Good acts are good and evil acts are evil. The motivation and intention behind the acts is irrelevant.  If an evil character runs charities helping the poor and ill thats a good act. Even though she sometimes kidnaps people to turn into wrackspawn, the charities are still a good act and the kidnapping evil. Whether a character qualifies as good or evil depends entirely on which of the two they do most. Thats how detect alignment functioned. It didn't read the person's thoughts, it just determined whether they did more good deeds, neutral deeds or more evil deeds. A neutral deed being anything that isn't necessarily evil or good (Instead of preying on the poor or helping the poor, you instead realize the poor are a vast labor resource and give jobs to hundreds in an effort to capitalize on an easily available resource to make yourself rich, thats neutral). (if you do 11 good deeds, 10 neutral deeds and 10 evil deeds throughout your stunningly dull life, most people would think of themselves as neutral but in D&D you are generally expected to rate yourself as good)
Note: Acts do have different weights. For example it would probably require helping hundreds of old ladies across the street to overwrite the stain of evil left by kidnapping someone, torturing someone and turning them into a wrackspawn.

Lawful/Chaotic also called the ethical axis is far more relative. A lawful person actively seeks to follow the social rules as they understand them, a chaotic person actively seeks to upset the social order for one reason or another. For example if your family arranges you to marry someone you dislike. If you go through with it thats a lawful act, if you run away thats a neutral act, if you devote yourself to ending the practice of arranged marriages and actively help other people avoid these fates, thats a chaotic act. Because its actively working against the current system of rules, and expectations.

A more complicated one is If an estranged member of your family seeks to reconcile with you on their death bed, (note it has to be the death bed), you may at first thing just ignoring him would be neutral as it doesn't seem to be an active action against the custom of giving the dying their last wish, due and all that. But in this case it sets a precedent which could have long term impact on this custom. After all if you don't respect their death bed wishes then why should anyone respect yours, but if people don't have to respect yours then respect for the deathbed wish becomes optional. Since don't respect, don't get respected means also if you respect you still have no reason to believe anyone else will respect yours.  Thus ignoring the death bed wishes of your estranged family member is not a neutral act but a chaotic act. Thus you can respect their death bed wish as a neutral act not because its the expected thing but because it is the easiest option. And going along wit things because its convenient is the definition of a neutral act in the chaotic/lawful alignment.

Whether or not you respect and obey leaders is a clear cut and obvious lawful/chaotic thing. I hope that doesn't need explaining. Same with whether or not you believe in lifelong romantic commitment as being a good or bad thing.

Insisting on repayment for agreed to loans is lawful, as being lawful means you place a high importance on contracts and agreements. Loaning money to a friend without care as to whether its paid back or not or with the expectation of a vague favor in return is neutral. And chaotics of course think of contracts and agreements as have zero importance or weight. To the point of being surprised if they are repaid for a favor done.

I really should stop now before I go into detail on every one of the examples given by the hero builder.

But bottom line is, in pre-4e D&D, alignment is not what you believe, its what you do, and doing nothing is doing something (that something being nothing which counts)

Yes moral philosophy is a personal interest of mine.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Wed Sep 14, 2016 11:25 am

I 110% agree that in D&D (pre-4E) alignment was intended to be an objective thing. And with deities that verifiably existed, it is an easy matter to have any one (or group) of these deities clearly codify what was good and what was evil. And for that matter, also what was lawful and what was chaotic.

Unfortunately, in my 35+ years of playing D&D, I have never, ever seen that happen at a table.

I think the problem lies in the expectations of the players themselves and how they want the alignment tool to work.

Every player would choose an alignment when they made a character. The alignment was chosen for various reasons. Personal play-style, class requirements, campaign restrictions, and player preference were some of the reasons that a player would consider when selecting their alignment. But, as soon as that character was used in a game, the character's actions and choices immediately start affecting the alignment written on the page.

We all know that good people do bad things sometimes. And D&D characters are no different. But they also do good things. And also things that are not skewed one way or the other towards good or evil. And the same is true of lawful/chaotic acts. This is all fine. One of the great things about story telling is when a character is up against a moral crisis and has to choose what to do. This makes for a great adventure when the heroes have to decide to make a personal sacrifice or commit one evil act so that they can save the entire city. It is a classic scenario. But there are some problems with this. And to be clear, the problems are not really with the game system itself (I'll explain in a bit what I mean), but rather with the expectations of the players and DM.

The problem that I saw most was the "your/my character wouldn't do that!" problem. In other words, during the game, a player would announce their action and the DM or other player would interject "Your character wouldn't do that!" because of an apparent conflict with the alignment written on the sheet. The other way I would sometimes see that is when the DM would throw out a plot hook or the players would decide on a course of action and then one player would say, "My character wouldn't do that!" and derail the rest of the session.

Obviously, any player can say that their character wouldn't (or would) do something. That is their choice. But the reason needs to be something other than "because my alignment is X, therefore I won't do Y". And honestly, when a character goes through the moral crisis of "I shouldn't do this because of my personal morals, but it will serve a greater/better purpose" that also makes for great story. It also can provide follow up when the character has to atone for their transgression.

But the accusation by a DM or other player against another player's choice is ungrounded. One player doesn't have the authority to "veto" another player's choice for their character. And a DM should never say "You can't make that choice". The DM should only ever say, "If you want to make that choice, that's fine. But there will be consequences."

So if the Lawful Good Paladin decides to use the Evil Artifact of Badness to summon demons so that the demons must fight the devils that are attacking the castle, the DM should tell the player that the Paladin is committing an evil act and will risk punishment for doing this. And another player might say, "My character is going to try to talk you out of doing this because I know that it may strip you of your status as a Paladin". But in no case should anyone, DM or player, say "Your character is Lawful Good, you can't do that." It is up to that character to choose whether or not they want to do a particular thing.

And this leads into another problem that I see with the alignment system as presented in D&D. And that is the game mechanic aspect. The game mechanics actually did address alignment. There were the obvious rules; Paladins must be Lawful Good, for example. And there were in-game things that dealt with the alignment stated on a character sheet or stat-block; Protection from Evil spell, for example. And these were implemented as a way to provide game mechanics that reflected the objective alignment system. And there were no rules that said a character could not change their alignment. In fact, the rules did state that some actions could impose an alignment change on a character.

But... this didn't always reflect the expectations of the players and DM.

I cannot count the number of times that an argument erupted at the table that went something like this:

Player: I use the spell to summon demons and send them into the burning building to save the orphans inside.
DM: That's an evil act, so that's going to affect your alignment.
Player: No it isn't. I'm doing something good in saving the orphans.
DM: But you are casting a spell that summons demons. That's an evil act.
Player: It isn't evil if the outcome serves good.
DM: Yes it is. The spell has the "evil" subtype and therefore casting it is an act of evil.
Player: But I'm controlling the demons so they must do what I say. And what I'm commanding them to do is a good deed. So overall, my actions are good.

... and so on, ad nauseum ...

And that's just one example of many that I've experienced in my many years of playing D&D. The problem ultimately stems from what I consider an under developed (or non-developed) alignment tracking system. D&D has many systems for tracking things on characters. Hit points are a prime example. You have a number that represents your "life total" (or however you want to abstract what hit points actually are). As that number goes down, you go from being uninjured on down to unconscious and then on to dead. With 4E there's obviously the Bloodied status in there as well. My point is that a character's position on the line between "fully healed" and "completely dead" is conveniently tracked with a number.

But there was never an alignment tracking system. There was never a mechanical system in the books that gave a person some numerical value along the good/evil axis and another along the law/chaos axis that allowed them to track their alignment. As was mentioned, if a person does 11 evil acts and 10 good acts, they are probably sitting near the middle of the track and would likely be considered "neutral" on that axis. And the same goes for the law/chaos axis of ethics. The more things in support of the ordered structure of society that one does, the further to the "lawful" end of that axis their numeric value should be moved.

I think that the descriptions of alignments was way too vague in early editions to really clarify it. But it is something that every DM needs to talk about with their players at the very beginning of any campaign. Clear expectations need to be set up and clear methods of how it will be tracked need to be enumerated so that everyone involved can understand and implement it in a way that makes sense for the type of character they want to play.

And this goes back to the initial post.

Alignment can be a fun and helpful tool within the mechanics of the game. But, like any game mechanic, it needs to be clearly defined. There is a very clear and defined system to determine whether an attack hits the intended target or not. There is a very clear and defined system to determine whether an action succeeds or fails.

And so for alignment, to use it in a game would require a very clear and defined system of what counts as good, chaotic, evil, lawful and even neutral. Also, it would require a system of weighted value (as was said, helping an old lady across the street is good, but not on the same scale as destroying an ancient, evil artifact). And finally, it would require a tracking system that would clearly identify where a character stands on the axes of alignment so that they know when their alignment is about to change from good to neutral or from neutral to chaotic or whatever.

This would allow a character to make choices that would actively move their alignment in the direction they want. If they notice that their "good" score is slipping down, they could do more to move it back up, for example.

I think that alignment can be a great thing to use in the game. However, if it is going to have a mechanical impact on the game, then it needs to have the same clear and concise rules as anything else that has a mechanical impact on the game. I know how much a +2 sword will help my characters. So how much will fighting alongside the city militia increase my "lawful score"? How much will summoning that demon affect my "evil score" and how does that compare to how much saving those orphans will affect my "good score". To play my character within the alignment system, I need to know how these things will affect my character.

It is a complex system. And there are many, many moral and ethical quandaries that can make it a muddy mess. The DM needs to be prepared to adjudicate these things and also to discuss with the players as to how they came to their decision. And most of all (at least in my opinion), the DM needs to be ready to modify their system to adjust for new things that weren't foreseen.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:04 am

skwyd42 wrote:

Player: I use the spell to summon demons and send them into the burning building to save the orphans inside.
DM: That's an evil act, so that's going to affect your alignment.
Player: No it isn't. I'm doing something good in saving the orphans.
DM: But you are casting a spell that summons demons. That's an evil act.
Player: It isn't evil if the outcome serves good.
DM: Yes it is. The spell has the "evil" subtype and therefore casting it is an act of evil.
Player: But I'm controlling the demons so they must do what I say. And what I'm commanding them to do is a good deed. So overall, my actions are good.

... and so on, ad nauseum ...
I haven't really experienced any big issues with alignment -- probably because I've been lucky with other players who're more interested in fun than enforcing restrictions -- but I have a consequentialist approach to ethics, so I can totally imagine myself being that player.

"This is bullshit, you want me to be Dudley Doright Dumbass?! This dogmatic obsession with mindless principles is the reason good people in the real world fight each other rather than evil!"

Cool


skwyd42 wrote:
When it comes to alignments in games, I think it is important for it to be clear with both the players and the GM how it will be implemented. Will it be a mechanical implementation where there are specific game mechanics tied to alignment? Are there things allowed/forbid to the characters based upon alignment? And most importantly, is there a clear and objective way for the GM and players to determine what actions (if any) could impose a forced shift in alignment?
Agreed. Right now, it's all fluff. Even more so than straight 4e. Players may jot an alignment down on their CS, and DMs may decide that angels and whatnot can sense the PCs' alignments, but I don't see the point in all the rules widgets that D&D has traditionally tied to alignments.

At some point in the distant future, I may, may somehow build alignments into a domain management system. "Tom the Mighty is a Freely Neutral duke, so he gets a +2 to productivity checks and a -2 to stability checks."

Or something...

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:10 am

Garthanos wrote:
I kind of liked world of Darkness's personality mechanics... or the ones in the Pendragon game (that was built around virtues and vices associated with the religions within its scope - one religions virtue was anothers vice) -- > never found alignment encouraged anything but shallow roleplay.

Sounds like those mechanics really demonstrate why lawful groups don't necessarily get along any better than cats and dogs. Wink

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Mon Sep 19, 2016 10:45 am

C4 wrote:
skwyd42 wrote:

Player: I use the spell to summon demons and send them into the burning building to save the orphans inside.
DM: That's an evil act, so that's going to affect your alignment.
Player: No it isn't. I'm doing something good in saving the orphans.
DM: But you are casting a spell that summons demons. That's an evil act.
Player: It isn't evil if the outcome serves good.
DM: Yes it is. The spell has the "evil" subtype and therefore casting it is an act of evil.
Player: But I'm controlling the demons so they must do what I say. And what I'm commanding them to do is a good deed. So overall, my actions are good.

... and so on, ad nauseum ...
I haven't really experienced any big issues with alignment -- probably because I've been lucky with other players who're more interested in fun than enforcing restrictions -- but I have a consequentialist approach to ethics, so I can totally imagine myself being that player.

"This is bullshit, you want me to be Dudley Doright Dumbass?! This dogmatic obsession with mindless principles is the reason good people in the real world fight each other rather than evil!"

8)


skwyd42 wrote:
When it comes to alignments in games, I think it is important for it to be clear with both the players and the GM how it will be implemented. Will it be a mechanical implementation where there are specific game mechanics tied to alignment? Are there things allowed/forbid to the characters based upon alignment? And most importantly, is there a clear and objective way for the GM and players to determine what actions (if any) could impose a forced shift in alignment?
Agreed. Right now, it's all fluff. Even more so than straight 4e. Players may jot an alignment down on their CS, and DMs may decide that angels and whatnot can sense the PCs' alignments, but I don't see the point in all the rules widgets that D&D has traditionally tied to alignments.

At some point in the distant future, I may, may somehow build alignments into a domain management system. "Tom the Mighty is a Freely Neutral duke, so he gets a +2 to productivity checks and a -2 to stability checks."

Or something...

One of my favourite moments was in an old D&D 3.x campaign. The Cleric/Paladin was going to do something (I don't recall exactly what) and one of the other players said, "But you're Lawful Good, why would you do that?" The Cleric/Paladin player replied "Because I'm Lawful Good, not Lawful Stupid!"

Personally, I like the idea of a mechanically driven alignment system. I think it might be interesting to have a numerical system for alignment such that a player could, at a glance, see where they are in terms of the axes of alignment. That would give them a clear and concise system to see the results of their actions.

Of course, I can see a new type of "power gamer" that could emerge from a system like this. They would be the sort that works to do as much as they can of the "easy tasks" that push their alignment towards the one they want (e.g. towards LG for a Noble Knight sort) so that they can get it way "into the positive". So every day, walk an old lady across the street, tithe the local temple, bring food to an orphanage, whatever. Then, while out adventuring, they could "push the limits" of their actions with the idea that they can go "just shy of evil" with the actual numerical expression of their position on the alignment chart.

It would make for hilarious table conversation when the LG Cleric says, "It's okay everyone! I can use this Unholy Rod of Evil and Chaos three more times before my alignment will shift!"

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sun Sep 25, 2016 5:24 pm

I had an idea about a system that tied a system of paladins vows/geasa would manage his gifts... not alignment at all but it in a sense tied the "lawfulness" idea to power for the paladin anyway.

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Wed Sep 28, 2016 1:41 pm

I said everything I could.
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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   Sat Nov 26, 2016 6:44 pm

Law/Chaos is always gonna be a bit tricky, since precisely what it represents has always been more muddy than good/evil. Depending on your interpretation, one maxim that might work is, "the needs of the group outweigh the need of the individual." So a lawful character would place collective needs above individual needs, a chaotic character would consider individual desires more important than social responsibility, and a neutral character is undecided/considers them equal/doesn't care.

Under this maxim, characters might do things like:

  • Lawful evil: Creating/supporting dictatorships (as long as they have a stabilising effect on the lives of the people). Quashing diversity and individual liberty in the name of order. "Bringing the gifts of empire to the savages by force". Shearing the sheep many times, instead of skinning them once.
  • Lawful good: Trying to resolve a conflict through peaceful means wherever possible. Complying with the system even when it's inconvenient or causes them harm (e.g. wrongful arrest), as long as compliance doesn't require committing/permitting evil acts. Supporting organised charities and religions (assuming they are legitimate).  Supporting lawful protest. Standing up to corruption, but trying to fix a broken system rather than tear it down.
  • Chaotic evil: Viewing life as a contest, where everybody has the right to take whatever they can. Encouraging social unrest and sectarianism for personal profit. Taking revenge. Dominating others through personal power. Refusing the justify their actions with any kind of principle.
  • Chaotic good: Accepting the rules only as long as they find them personally satisfying ("I wouldn't steal a car, but I'd download one if I could"). Encouraging unlawful protest/rebellion for a just cause. Embracing vigilante justice. Espousing the importance of diversity and equality.
  • Lawful: Embracing caste systems/social stratas and interdependence. Preferring organised religion and academia. Believing in destiny.
  • Chaotic: Embracing anarchy and independence. Rejecting traditional wisdom. Believing in self-determination.


Depending on how you view the law/chaos axis, another possible maxim is "The outcome is more important than the principle". So a chaotic character justifies their actions based the results they have achieve, where a lawful character justifies their actions based on the principles behind them. Running a red light when nobody else is on the road, versus waiting for the green because that's how the roads stay safe. This would be better if you're after the "personal code of behaviour" kind of law.

Now, I'm not totally satisfied with either one myself, Because I think there's more than one valid way to describe the Law/Chaos axis and I'm okay with all of them existing together in one game. But if you were looking to solidify it into one ideal, one of those two might do the trick.

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PostSubject: Re: Defining Maxim of the Law/Chaos Axis   

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